Let’s Go to the Scorecards!

By Tom Shook - Published in 2006

The current scoring system in professional boxing leaves a lot to be desired. There have been numerous recent decisions that have left many fans of boxing wondering if the judges actually watched the same fight as everyone else. Additionally, how many times have we heard of hometown decisions or of fighters being “robbed” because of questionable judging? Unacceptable decisions by the judges happen far too often in boxing and this is an oft-cited criticism of the sport by those that consider boxing to be corrupt.

In the ten-point must system currently in use three judges are supposed to score based on clean punches landed, effective aggressiveness and ring generalship. The winner of the round receives 10 points and the loser 9 or less depending on factors such as knockdowns or point deductions. The problem here is that two out of the three criteria are highly subjective in nature. One judge may consider a fighter’s style “effectively aggressive” while another may consider the same fighter to be lacking in defensive skills. Corrupt decisions notwithstanding boxing could use a major overhaul in its scoring system in order to increase the objectivity of judging contests.

Does the electronic scoring system currently in use in amateur boxing hold the answer? Most boxing experts would answer that with a resounding NO! The criticism of amateur boxing under its current scoring system is that once a fighter gets ahead on points, he attempts to avoid being hit leading to a running race more often than not in the last round of an amateur contest. A fighter that amasses a large early lead has little incentive to fight aggressively, possibly risking a knockout, because he is able to maintain his lead by avoiding his opponent.

Why is that? Judges in amateur matches record scoring blows by pressing a button for either the “red” or “blue” fighter (depending on which corner he is assigned). A computer then tallies the scoring blows and the scores are calculated. The system itself is highly accurate in the vast majority of cases. Three of the four judges must register a scoring blow within one second of each other for it to be counted. The problem lies not in electronic scoring itself, but in the manner in which fights are ultimately scored. The cumulative point totaling does not lend itself well to having matches that are hard fought each and every round. This is the advantage of the current professional scoring model in which each round is judged separately and counted equally in regard to the overall scoring of the contest.

I propose that professional boxing institute a modified version of electronic scoring. Wait a minute before you start screaming that it will ruin the sport. Hear me out; I think you will see that my argument has promise. Here is how I would change the scoring system to make it more objective, fair and most importantly without damaging the way in which bouts are fought:

Boxing would be scored under modified electronic scoring. Under this system three or four judges would score cleanly landed punches exactly as they do in amateur boxing. Two-thirds or three-fourths of the judges would have to register a scoring blow within one second of each other; there is no change here. However, once the judges score the punches they are entered into the computer, which then calculates the winner and loser of each round based on the score. The winner of the round would be awarded 10 points by the computer and the loser would receive 9 points. Each round would be scored separately just as they currently are in pro boxing. This would remove much of the subjectivity from scoring a round. The fighters would also have a clean slate at the beginning of each round as opposed to an ongoing point total, which encourages avoidance of heavy contact in the late stages of an amateur bout.

I know that another criticism of amateur boxing is that there is no mechanism to reward knockdowns. I agree. That is why under the proposed system knockdowns and point deductions by the referee would be entered into the computer separately from scoring blows. At the conclusion of the round the computer would add up the totals and then assign its score. An additional point would then be deducted not from the raw (punch total) score but from the adjusted (10 point score). So a round in which a fighter is out-pointed and knocked down would only earn him 8 points, for example.

Let’s look at a few hypothetical situations to see just how effective this new scoring system could be.

There are many fights in which a boxer is clearly winning the round on points, only to be knocked down late in the round. Most judges would score this a 10 to 8 round in favor of the fighter that scored the knockdown, even though he may have been severely out-pointed for most of the round. Under the new system the fighter who lands more scoring blows receives 10 points, the other receives 9; once the knockdown is factored into the adjusted score this would become a 9-9 round. This is what should already be happening in professional boxing but it rarely if ever does. This creates a very fair system to reward both the boxer and the puncher.

Point deductions by the referee for things such as repeated low blows, intentional head butts and other rule violations would be scored in exactly the same fashion as a knockdown, resulting in round scoring that is both fair and accurate.

The power puncher is not penalized under this system. Knockouts are still knockouts and knockdowns still carry the same scoring potential. Fighters are going to be rewarded for throwing hard, effective combinations. Knockdowns can turn a fight around in the same manner that they do now.

The criticism that electronic scoring does not promote aggressive fighting doesn’t apply here. The fighters know that they must continue to fight aggressively each and every round in order to capture the points needed to win the round.

How about a closely fought bout the results in a draw under the current rules? I have seen many close contests that ended in a draw and I don’t disagree with those decisions but the new system could eliminate draws in a lot of situations and award a decision in favor of the consistently more active (read aggressive) fighter. Here’s how: suppose that in a ten round match each fighter wins five of the rounds in a clearly close fight. Current rules call this a 95-95 decision, a draw. This is where electronic scoring could be used to break a tie. The cumulative total of cleanly landed punches of each fighter would be registered at the end of the fight along with the adjusted score. In the case of a draw on the adjusted scores, the cumulative total would be used to break the tie. Looking back to our 95-95 draw, suppose that boxer “A” landed a grand total of 500 punches throughout the fight and boxer “B” landed 475. Boxer “A” would be declared the winner. This is not unlike the punch totals that we see already from unofficial sources such as Compubox. Not only would this reduce the chances of a draw it would actually encourage more aggressive fighting, especially in close contests. Fighters would want to be consistently aggressive throughout the match to ensure that they had a better punch output and total. This would make for more exciting matches in a lot of cases with each boxer fighting hard for every round.

This same scoring system should be instituted in the amateurs as well. First of all it would eliminate a lot of the tactics that are currently applied by fighters in order to protect their point leads. Each round has an equal contribution to the outcome. A person cannot score points by running away.

Secondly, this would create a seamless transition from the amateur to the professional ranks. Boxers would have spent their entire careers training and competing under the same system. This would help to establish more consistent tactics and a fighter’s style would be developed over time with no need to make adjustments based on markedly different scoring systems. A professional title fight would be scored in the exact same fashion as a Golden Gloves tournament. In both cases the scoring would be accurate, fair and objective.

I believe that the institution of modified electronic scoring in boxing would be a huge step in the right direction. The current ten-point must system is an outdated and overly subjective method of scoring and must be significantly overhauled for the sake of the sport. The fighters deserve the fairest decisions possible under all circumstances, to do any less than that is to disrespect their hard work and dedication to the this great sport.

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